Coming to Delhi I was the first of the SPECTRESS fellows from Poland sent to India; it was also my first visit in that country. Destined to pave the way and to set up a fort I was ready to rely on myself, the more so because the preliminary contacts with our Indian partners proceeded not without difficulties. In effect I had come to the unknown city in the middle of night (fortunately, having a guest house booked by Prof. Mukherjee) and for the first three days I was roaming around the city looking for the accommodation possibilities. Quickly I found out that that it is not easy. First, apartments and their prices offered for foreigners are usually artificially overpriced, second, it is hard to rent a flat for relatively short period, third, the newcomer is absolutely disoriented in which part of the enigmatic city to live, if he does not want to stay in a guarded diplomatic district. Finally, thanks to Prof. Mukherjee, I contacted one of the former participants of our program (Thank you Kosta!) who recommended the flat he had recently left. It was in a pleasant district inhabited by local middleclass families, and close to the JNU campus. It was also to be overpaid but the landlord seemed helpful and the area green and peaceful, which is exceptional in the crowded and dirty city.
The JNU campus is a beautiful jungle with peaceful spots to stay and cheap bars to eat. Its inhabited by an international society of students and professors who also live at the area. It is strongly divided into departments, so any inter-departmental relations might be difficult and the whole administration is a nightmare. Library collections are mostly casual and chaotic, recommended more for explorers then strict academics; however, searching among the shelves may be an adventure. Walls of the university buildings serve for political battlefield, although extremely one-sided. English is common language of teaching but even for informal conversations students like to use the “universal” code. I met wonderful people there, sensual and emotional, helpful and hard-working.
Delhi is heavily polluted, crazy blocked by cars and filled by monumental official buildings. But it is also green, with parks surprisingly well maintained and a huge variety of theatres, galleries and libraries, cheap and often even free. It is also safe, people are friendly and helpful, most of them speaking English, and fortunately there are not to many tourists. One can live there both western and local way. There are districts absolutely modern, relatively expansive, and local communities, also friendly for the foreigners. The city is well connected through metro and buses; the latter are usually not recommended for “civilized” people, which means that most of the upper class does not degrade themselves to use those “dirty and smelly” vehicles, but once you really want to feel local atmosphere it is the best way, and also very cheap. The best food you can find on the street-stands, made by dirty hands and on open air. Local intellectuals would never recommend it to the European taste and American sense of safety, but eating with poor students and workers offers you the unique opportunity to look inside the area of real “difference”.
Spending winter in Delhi one has to be ready for warm days and cold nights. Do not expect tropical weather; you will need some heating in your apartment for at least three months, and a warm jacket will also be necessary. However, many street markets offer a variety of both local and western cloths. Once the city is extremely dirty and dusty, and using people for cleaning is a natural, even required habit, an Indian sense of cleanness and order may surprise you, so be ready for daily homework. You have to bargain everywhere, usually half price of the one offered for the foreigner is a rational decision. It does not pay to exchange cash, except in banks but only some of them (those less popular) can do it; the best way is using card of one of the international chains, like City or HSBC. The price usually depends more from the place you buy goods then their quality, so the best choice for beginners is to ask your local friends. For eating I do recommend cantinas and small shops at the JNU campus.
I was traveling for several weeks through the whole India, by trains (the most amusing and comfortable but time consuming journey, and it’s hard to book a ticket) and busses (faster and easy to catch the connection); also using taxis, especially if you need to visit popular touristic destinations could be a good solution, if you know how to bargain of course. Relatively inexpensive and useful way of traveling is also Uber, popular in most of the regions. One should not expect in India the western sense of “beauty”, even the most famous objects of architecture seem to be neglected. Sticking to the touristic tracks might be disappointing. The best way of exploring the continent is just fallowing local signs… For the vacation I would rather not recommend Goa, it is dirty, food is expensive, and crowded by visitors coming just for drinking and dancing on the beach. If you need to stay on a clean and empty beach and swim in a beautiful sea, go to Kerala or Karnataka seaside, or the far south.